Wardian’s Third Time Is A Charm at JFK 50 Mile - Second Fastest Time

                        Lundblad Captures Back-to-Back Wins

                                                By George Banker


“I can not imagine running 50 miles. I’ll tell you this – you guys are Crazy!!! And in the running world, crazy means two things – tough and respected”. These are the words of Jaron Hawkins of the Cumberland Valley Athletic Club (CVAC). He was the third place finisher in the 32nd Marine Corps Marathon in a time of 2:25:34.


Hawkins was making a comment about the participants of the 45th JFK 50 Miler which was held on Saturday, November 17, 2007. The JFK 50 Miler has reached a level of national attention by being the largest 50-mile ultra marathon rich in history (1,079 finishers).


In 1963 President John F. Kennedy revived the fitness theme for Americans. U.S. News & World Report (February 25, 1963) reported that Attorney General Bobby Kennedy did a “non-stop” 50 miles in 17 hours. Also, Marine, Brig. General R. McC. Tompkins did 50 miles in 15 hours 32 minutes.


The first JFK 50 Mile Challenge was held in the spring of 1963. The first finishers were Steve Cosition, James Ebberts, Rick Miller, and Buzz Sawyer in a time of 13:10. After the assassination of President in November 1963 the race name was changed to the JFK 50 Mile Memorial in 1964.


The start of the race is in Boonsboro, Maryland which was founded by brothers George and William Boone (relative of Daniel Boone).  The town was drawn up in 1788 and incorporated in 1831.


The first 2.5 miles in along a paved road that climbs to 500 feet to meet the Appalachian Trail. The Trail is 2,175 miles greenway from Maine to Georgia. The next 13 miles except for miles 3.5 to 5.5 miles followed a rocky section of the famous North-South footpath. The rocky portion is very demanding with the up and down and unsteady footing on the sometimes sharp rocks which could cause injury in the event of all. There are portions where the runner has to walk.  The strategy along this section is to remain on your feet.


At 14.5 miles the course goes down a series of steep “switchbacks” which is a narrow path wide enough for one person. The pace through this segment slows. A transition was made to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The Canal segment is all flat unpaved dirt from mile 15.5 to 41.8. At Dam #4 along the  C&O Canal to course returns to rolling paved roads for the last 8.4 miles.  Near dust all of the runners are given reflective vest to wear.  

The finish is located at Springfield Middle School in Williamsport, Maryland.


The profile of the runners for the JFK is those who seek a unique experience, have a love for the sport, look for the ultimate challenge, and accept the risk of failure and or injury. There is a time limit for each check point and you can be pulled off the course for not maintaining pace. The speed is important but finishing is the ultimate prize.


The 2007 race was an honor to the memory of long time volunteer Hubert Elwood “Buck” Huntzberry, Sr., (1924-2007). He was a long-time volunteer as a member of the Antietman Radio Association.  He served in World War II as a member of the U.S. Army participating in five major campaigns including Normandy and Ardennes. He passed away on June 6th – the 63rd anniversary of D-Day.


The third time was a charm for Michael Wardian of Team Pacers/Brooks. Wardian completed 13 marathons this year which included the Olympic Marathon Trials. It took Wardian 24 miles to take the lead from Pete Breckinridge of Norfolk, Va., the 2006 defending champion (6:04:40). Wardian ran into the history books by finishing in 5:50:34 with the second fastest winning time. The course record is 5:46:22 set in 1994 by Eric Clifton.


Breckinridge was attempting to join the club of consecutive year winners, Max White (73-5:50:30, 74- 6:09:19), Mike Spinnler (82-5:53:05, 83-6:12:12), Chris Gibson (88-6:31:06, 6:16:29, 92-6:25:39, 93-6:35:51), and Eric Clifton (94-5:46:22, 95-6:15:36).


Zachariah Miller of Ann Arbor, MI, was second with a time of 6:02:02.  The third finisher was Matthew Lavine of Crystal Lake, IL in 6:06:07. Mark Lundblad of Swannanoa, NC was fourth in 6:09:17. In fifth place was Eric Grossman of Emory, Va., in 6:20:50.


Michael Wardian, a 1996 graduate of Michigan State where he played lacrosse. He ran his first marathon in 1996 and qualified for Boston.  Last year Wardian had to drop out due to an injury and this year he had a different plan, “I think my fitness level and patience early in the race paid off for me at JFK. Also, I feel like I finally ran a race where everything I have learned over the years came together and I executed my race strategy as thoroughly as possible”.


The JFK can hold surprises for the first timer and words from Wardian, “For a first time runner I would know what your goal is going into the race because when things get “tough” it will help to have that goal in your mind and then you can rally around it”.


The competition is always a variable in any event especially the JFK, “I was concerned about everyone in the race. I always am. I knew that I was ready to run but everyone has a chance to win and run well and that is one of the things I like about racing”, stated Wardian.


In the JFK there is a choice of running for time or place for Wardian, “I don’t think either was more important, I was running based on hitting under a certain time and figured that the place would work out”.


It is easy to look at the JFK after it’s over to see what could have been done differently and for Wardian, “If I had to run the event over, I would push harder over the last eight miles, I think I could have done better looking back but I was pretty tired so I did what I thought I could”.


Each event is a learning experience and Wardian runs away with, “I learned a lot about myself and I am happy that it was mostly positive. I was pleased that I kept pushing till the end and finishing strongly that was important and so was running a good time at that distance. I am looking forward to running more races in the future and I am always looking to see what other things I can learn from the experience”.


Anne Lundbald of Swannanoa, NC was the female finisher overall and first master in 6:42:50. She is the 2005 winner (6:29:42) and course record holders. The first female finisher was Donna Aycoth in 1968 (10:41:15). She returned to win 1969-1973, the longest female winning streak.  Sue Medaglia won 1977-1981 and Carolyn Showalter won 1985-1989. Laura Nelson  is a four time winner (91-92, 2000-2001).


Annette Bednosky of Jefferson, NC was second in 7:10:29. The third place went to Francesca Conte of Charlottesville, VA, in 7:24:29.Jennifer Davis of Princeton, NJ was fourth in 7:41:35.  Susan Hutchinson of Ancaster, Ontario was fifth in 7:45:59.


One of the new inductees to the 500 Mile Club is Joe Lugiano of Cary, NC who finished in 12:47:07.


Mike Malinin, the drummer of the band Goo Goo Dolls was coming off an injury finished the race in 11:50:59.


There are two prestigious clubs (Legends) of the JFK 50 Mile, the “500 Mile”, those who have completed 10 runnings and to date there are 243 with the newest inductees from 2006 Michael Campbell, Jim Fitch, Louis Jones, Leo Lightner, Danny Losekamp, Paul Mingo, Keith Moore, Phil O’Connor, Dom Quattrochi, Ojars Stikis, and Ronald Temechko. This group sports a sweatshirt with “500 Mile Club”.


The other is the “1,000 Mile”, with 30 runners who have completed 20 running’s with the newest 2006 inductees: Dave Downin, David Janosko, and Dale Rhoderick. This group sports a white polo shirt with “1000 Mile Club”.


“After winning my second consecutive JFK 50 Mile in 1983 (6:12:12) I announced my retirement to the press at the finish line of the event. I would later reconsider, and raced the JFK 500 Mile in ’84, ’85, ’87, ’88 and ’90 before ultimately retiring. At the finish line in 1983 I told Buzz Sawyer that when he needed to give the race up, that I’d be interested in taking over as race director. A few years went by and when he had a scare with prostrate problem in 1987 we decided that I would take over after he directed the 30th Annual JFK 50 Mile in 1992. I worked under Buzz during the 1991 and 1992 JFK 50 Mile events”, stated Mike Spinnler.


“I envision the JFK 50 Mile transcending many generations and a 100th Annual JFK 50 Mile being held in November 2062. I probably won’t be around but I hope my sons are there enjoying that event with great pride. A high point was when we became the first U.S. ultramarathon to ever officially finish over 1,000 runners (1,017 in 2006).


Spinnler shares his thoughts, “When people walk away from the finish line of the JFK 50 Mile I want them to feel like –with hard work and persistence – anything is possible. By and large the people who finish the JFK 50 Mile are the same type of individuals achieving excellence in every other avenue of their lives”.


“The Cumberland Valley Athletic Club measures our success in managing the event by the growing number of people who desire to be part of this great American sporting tradition. Also, that after they come and participate, they then go and spread a positive word about the event”, added Spinnler.


The 46th JFK 50 Mile is scheduled for November 22, 2008.